Monday, June 24, 2024

Travel fees and tax-free shopping ban are hurting Britain, says Heathrow

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Nationals from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now required to pay a £10 fee when they change flights at Heathrow or enter the UK for a limited period without a legal residence or visa.

The electronic travel authorisation scheme, introduced last November, is due to be extended to include most other countries in the autumn and to EU, European Economic Area and Swiss nationals in early 2025.

The Government said the scheme would help boost border security and improve travel for legitimate visitors.

But Heathrow has argued that applying the scheme to passengers who only ever transit between flights puts UK airports at a disadvantage to European hubs such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

The fees may already be having an impact, with 19,000 fewer transit passengers travelling from Qatar to Heathrow in the first four months of the scheme. The route recorded its lowest monthly proportion of transfer traffic in over 10 years during the period.

Heathrow also hit out at the so-called tourist tax, which came about after Mr Sunak axed VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors in 2020 following Britain’s departure from the EU. The Treasury has claimed that scrapping the tax would cost the exchequer £2bn.

But campaigners have argued it may be costing the Treasury almost £11bn annually as it deters two million tourists from visiting, according to research published last year by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Heathrow said: “Initiatives like the introduction of unnecessary visas for transiting passengers, the absence of tax-free shopping and the recently proposed hike in business rates underscore the need for ministers to take a cross-government approach to policy making.”

A government spokesman said: “The UK aviation industry is one of the best in the world and we remain committed to supporting airports to boost our global connectivity and grow our economy.

“Requiring transit passengers to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation ensures we are making the border more secure, and stops people who may use connecting flights to avoid gaining their permission to travel to the UK when they do not have it. We are keeping this under review as we continue to rollout the scheme.”

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